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European meat processors feel COVID-19 pressure

Multiple cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at some of Germany’s slaughterhouses and meat processing plants have received a great deal of media attention in recent weeks.

Processing Of Meat At A Meat-packing Plant. Food Industry
Kalinovskiy |

4 German meat processing plants have been forced to close after a high number of COVID-19 infections among their workforce.

Multiple cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at some of Germany’s slaughterhouses and meat processing plants have received a great deal of media attention in recent weeks.

Latest testing for the COVID-19, however, has revealed few virus-positive cases in this sector, according to the German pig producers’ organization, ISN.

Last week, testing of approximately 45,000 workers began at the major slaughterhouses and meat plants in North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein — states in which cases of COVID-19 had been particularly high among the meat processing sector.

The testing program was initiated after several meat facilities were forced to close temporarily due to a high incidence of COVID-19 infections among the workforce.

While Germany was generally preparing to ease restrictions, infections at slaughterhouses and processing plants delayed reopening in some areas, reported Deutsche Welle.

At the end of last week, 92 workers tested positive for the virus at a factory at Dissen in Lower Saxony. After this — the country’s fourth large outbreak at a meat processing facility — the facility has been closed, and the staff and their families are in quarantine.

Concerns have been raised about the living and working conditions of employees in Germany’s meat industry. Many of these workers are from eastern Europe.

To address the issues, the government has arranged to meet with representatives from the meat industry this week.

Northern Ireland: Death of a poultry plant worker

Last week, a poultry worker in Northern Ireland died as the result of COVID-19, reports Belfast Telegraph. She was a member of the production staff at Moy Park’s processing plant in Dungannon, County Tyrone.

Having put in place a series of “robust” measures to keep employees safe, the poultry meat company is not being blamed for the worker’s tragic death. These include staggered breaks for staff, adjustments to the spacing of communal areas and work stations, and the installation of screens on production lines.

Nevertheless, trade union Unite has called for the plant to be closed temporarily to facilitate testing of all workers for COVID-19.

“We want to avoid the risk of the industry facing the same crisis as in the USA and Brazil, where tens of thousands of workers have caught this virus,” said the regional Unite representative.

Moy Park has expressed its condolences to the employee’s family. A company spokesperson said additional measures put in place at all its premises have been approved by inspectors from the health and safety executive.

“We work tirelessly to protect the safety of our team, and we formally review the situation daily,” they said.

Irish trades union calls for industry task force

More than 600 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the meat industry across the Irish Republic, according to the Services Industrial and Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU). The organization says it represented thousands of workers in dozens of meat processing plants across the country.

Close proximity working in meat plants has “almost certainly been a conduit for the spread of the virus,” according to SIPTU. It believes the living conditions of low-paid workers is also a contributory factor. The union is calling on the Irish government to create a task force with meat industry stakeholders to tackle these issues.

In order to prevent a new spike in COVID-19 infections, measures in addition to the general nationwide “Return to Work Protocol” are required for the meat industry, says SIPTU.

View our continuing coverage of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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